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Cemeteries around the World: Pere Lachaise

Located in Paris, France, Pere Lachaise is one of the most iconic cemeteries in the world. Not only is it the home of the famous tomb of Jim Morrison (who died in the bath in the city), which is guarded by 24 hour security, but also it is the final resting place of Oscar Wilde, Frederic Chopin and Edith Piaf.

Victor Noir’s grave

The cemetery became the first garden cemetery in the world when it became established by Napoleon in 1804. Pere Lachaise was one of four cemeteries in Paris that were built in order to deal with the overflowing central Paris burial spots, alongside Montmartre, Montparnasse and Passy. The first burial at the cemetery was a doorbell-boy’s five year old daughter as evidence of Napoleon’s claim that “every citizen has the right to be buried regardless of race or religion”.

Today the cemetery is extremely popular with tourists, whether its French tourists paying tribute to the country’s political heroes and villains, or those who have made the pilgrimage to one of the many graves of world renowned artists, musicians and creatives.

Those wishing to be buried here face a long wait (not that it will bother them when the time comes) with a long waiting list and extremely strict entry conditions. The cemetery will only take residents if they have either died in Paris or lived there for a significant amount of time. Plots at the cemetery are leased to the family members of the deceased in 10, 30 and 50 year packages, if the lease is not renewed after it has run out the body is dug up and moved to another cemetery. The tomb of Jim Morrison was almost removed after the lease ran out and family members of nearby residents complained about the graffiti and disruption caused by visitors to Morrison’s tomb.

Famous residents:

Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde (16 October 1854 – 30 November 1900)

Born in Dublin, Ireland, Oscar Wilde is among the most well-known authors, poets and playwrights. Wilde was most famous for his book The Picture of Dorian Gray, along with The Importance of Being Earnest. Wilde accused the Marquess of Queensbury (the father of Wilde’s lover Lord Alfred Douglas) of criminal libel after a letter from the Marquess accused him of being a somdomite, during the case however he was found guilty of gross indecency and sentenced to two years hard labour in prison. It used to be popular for visitors to Wilde’s tomb to apply lipstick and kiss it, therefore leaving a lipstick mark, now however a kiss-proof barrier has been erected.

Jim Morrison’s grave

Jim Morrison (8 December 1943 – 3 July 1971)

Born in Melbourne, Florida, Jim Morrison became famous as lead singer of rock band The Doors. Morrison was well known for writing the lyrics for songs such as Riders On The Storm, Light My Fire and Break On Through (To The Other Side). Morrison is perhaps best known for being one of the first rock stars to adopt an aggressive and devient stage persona, often shouting abuse at the crowd and being imprisoned for exposing himself on stage. Morrison’s work inspired many musicians including Iggy Pop and David Bowie. The reason for his death is still relatively mysterious with it originally thought to be heart failure, however since an autopsy was not required under French law at the time no one knows for sure.

Edith Piaf (19 December 1915 – 10 October 1963)

Born in Paris, much of Edith Piaf’s life still remains unknown, she is perhaps most famous for the song Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien. Piaf was abandoned by her mother at birth and lived for most of her young life with her paternal grandmother who ran a brothel in Normandy. Between the ages of three and seven Piaf is said to have been blind as a result of keratitis, Piaf recovered her sight later on, which she put down to miraculous healing. Piaf first sang in public at the age of 14 when accompanying her father on his street performances across France. Her singing career began in 1933 performing in Paris nightclubs, the Nazi occupation of France did not stop her career and she was performing as a singer until the year of her death. Her grave at Pere Lachaise is a family grave that also contains the body of her father and her daughter.

Chopin’s Grave

Frederic Chopin [Heart in Warsaw] (1 March 1810 – 17 October 1849)

Frederic Chopin was born in Żelazowa Wola, Poland, just 30 miles from Warsaw. Chopin is one of the most famous composers of all time. Chopin only gave 30 public performances during his whole career, he supported himself by selling compositions and giving piano lessons. Chopin had a great friendship and rival with fellow legendary composer Franz Liszt, with the two performing together on several occasions. Liszt and Chopin began to grow jealous of each other towards the end of Chopin’s life, however up until 1848 (a year before Chopin’s death) letters from Chopin to Liszt still described him as a friend. Upon his death Chopin’s heart was preserved in Cognac and placed in the Church of the Holy Cross in Warsaw, while his body was buried in Pere Lachaise and left open for a while due to his fear of being buried alive.

Victor Noir (27 July 1848 – 10 January 1870)

Born Yvan Salmon in the village of Attigny, France, Victor Noir was a political journalist famous for being killed by the nephew of Napoleon. Despite his death being just about the only thing he is known for Noir’s grave is one of the most popular in the cemetery. This is dues to a superstition surrounding a rather large bulge near his statue’s crotch. Locals believe rubbing the crotch, kissing the statue and putting a flower in his hat brings enhanced fertility, a blissful sex life and according to some a husband within a year. A fence was erected around the statue in 2004 to stop people from rubbing it as it had began to cause significant damage to the statue, however it was torn down shortly after in protest.

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